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Asus P5q-vm Mini Review


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#1 guzzidom

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 04:05 PM

Alright, not the most technical review out there but the P5Q overclocking BIOS deeper features have already been covered by OCC (and they are all the same) so I'll largely stick to the features that differ between this and the other boards in the range.

After using Asus boards in a couple of recent budget builds and being somewhat impressed by their fuss free installation I have just used this board for my latest home build, I was strictly budgeted so I went for a board with integrated graphics so I could get a decent card after Christmas.

Anyone not familiar with the P5Q range should note this comes from the lower end of the (vast) spectrum of different models, some supporting DDR3, others with inbuilt Wi-Fi, some with X-fire support and some of the upper echelon models with all of the above and tricksy Northbridge/southbridge passive cooling and 8 phase supplies, the VM model differs from the lowest end model by three main features, RAID support and integrated Intel X4500HD graphics and an mATX size.
This is a DDR2 board with support for up to 16GB ram (with the usual caveat of a 64 bit O/S).
An all pervading reason to use this board over some of it's competitors is the usage of solid Japanese ceramic capacitors all the way through the build.

Firstly installation was a breeze without the sometimes massive spring tension between the I/O plate and the motherboard I/O connectors that you can get with budget boards.
All connections were very well placed for my conventional build (optical drives and PSU at top and HDD's at bottom) and no XP driver (F6) floppy was needed to get SATA HDD recognition during XP install
The BIOS being largely the same in this respect right the way across the range, is an overclockers toybox (more of this later), however this board has only two seperate fan headers beyond the CPU one so it may limit the hardcore OC enthusiast in this respect (though fan controllers are hardly difficult to obtain).

With an E8400 and Patriot Extreme Performance 800mhz 4-4-4-12 ram loosened to 5-5-5-15 a simple FSB bump saw 3.8ghz without altering a single voltage setting and 4.5ghz took a simple bump on the CPU to 1.32v (I've heard the hard of thinking bemoaning the 45nm chips lack of ability to take voltage, here's news, they don't need to take it like the 65nm, try your E6800 on a budget air cooler at 4.5ghz with 1.32v and see where you get!), at this speed with an Arctic Cooling 7 it was running too hot for my tastes (my PC lives inside a closed PC desk with little airflow) with a 48 idle and a 67 load, backing off to 3.6 allowed me to tighten the rams timings up, drop the voltage back to stock and has run SuperPi for 2 hours without lifting over 48 degrees, that's 20% free performance with all stock voltages and ram timings.

Now to the wierder bits, first off you'll see your "system temperature" hovering around the 50 degrees mark, this is NOT your northbridge temps (you'll be amazed how many people out there on the wonder web are assuming it is!), it is solely because the temperature sensor lives in the top right hand corner of the board, tucked in a still pocket of air between your PSU and your optical drives, it's of no concern at all unless you are as paranoid as me, in which case you'll move one of your optical drives down and mount 2 X 80mm fans on one 12v supply in the vacant drive bays (blowing backwards). This will instantly make this reading 25 degrees and settle your nerves no end.

The Northbridge does get fairly hot, certainly about 40c to the touch (under stress testing), giving at a guess around 50 degrees on the chip (upper range models will monitor this for you), not a concern as it's thermal overload is around the 75 degree mark. The more expensive models in the range have a heatpipe connecting the north/southbridge chips, though, as they are still passively cooled with not a lot more heatsink real estate I can't imagine the situation to be radically different.

Another strange element is it automatically picked up my 4-4-4-12/2.2v ram as 5-5-5-15 and 1.4v and this had to be corrected in BIOS, this may well be a feature of the ram to be fair but it's worth looking out for.

A feature of this entire range of boards is the tiny little copy of Linux they've included on an onboard chip, they call this ExpressGate but it's terminology and look will be immediately familiar to anyone who's dabbled with Linux in the last couple of years, in short it presents a splash screen just before the main OS boots which if you click on it will take you to an interface whereby you can access the web / skype etc without actually going into Windows. Asus make a big deal of this taking 5 secs, which it does, except then you have to click on the "web" icon which takes another 5 seconds, still from cold machine to Google in ten secs isn't bad (time your normal method!).
Where this comes into it's own is it's lack of dependency on the OS and it's latitude for your overclocking mistakes, I accidentally left the ram at 4-4-4-12 and bumped the FSB to 450mhz, ExpressGate still worked fine but going to the OS simply took me to a warning that my OC had failed and into the BIOS, if I couldn't figure out what I had done there is no reason I could see that I couldn't go browsing the web for my answer, because of this I suspect at the point of loading ExpressGate the mobo is running at factory default (I could be wrong).

I didn't hold out much hope for the Intel DX10 graphics but was astonished that it would happily run Doom 3 at medium settings, a fair bit of eye candy and never drop below 50fps ditto HL2, OK it's not Far Cry 2 but if you've used any other Intel IGP's you will see this as nothing short of a miracle.

So, in short,
If you have no need for Wi-Fi, DDR3, X-fire, 8 phase power, or maybe have a midi case that won't take the full ATX boards of the dearer brethren then buy with confidence, especially if you want to tweak the best out of your CPU, also if you wish to make a Photoshop machine or integrate it into a HD tv setup then using the Intel X4500HD graphics will give you full 1080/Blue Ray ability at super smooth rates and the lack of motherboard fans render it (obviously) utterly silent

Downsides
Obvious lack of features of upper echelon boards based on the same chipset
Only two fan headers
Silly placement of case temp sensor
Only one IDE slot (fairly common these days)
Only one PCI slot (If more are needed, at a similar price point buy the P5Q-SE, though that is a larger board and has no IGP)
Expressgate could easily have included CD/DVD burning with NTFS recognition (like a lot of other Linux distro's) which would have been a godsend if you needed to rescue files in a hurry from a corrupt XP installation
No way of setting the ram command rate, stuck at 2T ( a strange oversight as there are at least 20 other ram timings you can fiddle with)

Upsides
Excellent quality build
Great overclocker (with decent CPU and RAM)
Surprisingly good onboard graphics (especially for media use)
Genuinely useful ExpressGate mini OS
Cheap

In essence I can see this board sitting with an overclocked E7200 and an 8800GTS as a budget gaming rig, paired with 4gb of ram and an E6600 for a photoshop/encoding/music rendering setup or with an E2200 and 2gb of cheap ram as the centre of a media/tv setup both of the latter making good use of the silence of the IGP and the Asus fan controlling features.

Buy with confidence!.

Edited by guzzidom, 01 December 2008 - 01:13 PM.